Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?

Dr. Poinsett aka Godmother Doc
and @yayayarndiva

[image: photo of a Black woman
with short silver-and-black hair.]
Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett

Over the last year, the Nation of Islam -- which does not represent mainstream Islam -- has resurrected the fallacious “CDC Whistleblower” argument that vaccines, and the MMR vaccine in particular, is causing autism in Black males. That autism is something to be feared, eradicated. At times the rhetoric has gone so far as to accuse vaccines of killing black and brown children.

As both a Black pediatrician and mother of a son with severe mental health and learning disorders, I know that vaccines prevent diseases, save lives, and do not cause autism. Many studies unequivocally show that there is no connection between vaccine components and the development of autism. Autism manifests independently of the vaccine schedule. The reality is that autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that likely has both genetic and environmental components – components that do not include vaccines.

The #CDCWhistleblower/Nation of Islam polemic invalidates the lives of autistic children and adults. It erases the existence of autistic girls and women. Also missing from this discredited discourse are the real issues affecting Black and Brown autistic children and adults: they are generally diagnosed at a later age than white autistics. There is also a disparity in support and therapeutic resources for Black and Brown autistics. As a result Black and Brown autistics have less early access to beneficial factors that are important in improving quality of life.

Creating messages of autism awareness and acceptance is crucial for Black and Brown communities, as is more advocacy for and by autistics to ensure access to more resources. Going beyond fear-based messages like The Nation of Islam uses is key, because their ableist language stigmatizes autistics as being damaged, instead of being human and deserving better understanding. We must also recognize that a history of distrust of medical system exists in Black and Brown communities. However it is time to move towards eliminating disparities in diagnoses and resources, instead of solely repeating the history of past wrongs.